A sailor shared the surprising story of the “worst decision of his life”, which led him to live on stale bread while he was stuck at sea.
A Syrian sailor spent a frightening four years on board a cargo ship off the Egyptian coast – two of them alone – before finally being allowed to return home earlier this month, according to reports.
Mohammad Aisha’s nightmare on the container ship MV Aman began because of a legal dispute with Egyptian authorities, the Wall Street Journal reported.
“I don’t know how it happened to me,” he told the newspaper in a recent interview.
“The world is isolating itself, but I was abandoned.”
The ship was detained in the port of Adabiya, Egypt, near the mouth of the Suez Canal, not long after Aisha, 29, embarked in May 2017.
The ship’s captain was on shore and Aisha was working on repairs when a courier from the Egyptian court boarded a letter stating that the boat would be detained until its owner paid a $ 21,500 bill for an anchor purchased the previous year.
Aisha, as mate, the ship’s second-in-command, signed the letter designating herself as the ship’s legal guardian on the captain’s advice, the report said.
“I had no idea it was the biggest mistake of my life,” Aisha told the newspaper.
In November 2017, Aisha called the ship’s agent, Baha Fadel El Alla, to leave – but a port officer told him that as the ship’s legal guardian, he should remain on board, the report said.
Aisha was informed in September 2018 that her mother had died – and in August 2019, he had been left completely alone on board the ship while more than a dozen crew members gave up one by one and returned home.
At night, Aisha told the news agency that the ship was as dark and silent as a grave.
The ship’s agent provided food and fuel, but over time deliveries became smaller and less frequent.
Aisha had no more than a few pieces of dry bread to eat for a few days.
Twice differently in September 2019, Aisha broadcast distress alerts over the radio, claiming that the ship was no longer supporting life, and then took a lifeboat ashore in hopes of cutting red tape.
The police escorted him back every time.
Aisha even begged the authorities to put him in prison, but they said they could not because he had done nothing wrong, the newspaper reported, noting that because Aisha was Syrian without a proper visa, she was not allowed to enter Egypt .
During a particularly scary episode in October 2019, the ship started to go into the water and a panicked Aisha screamed, “Mayday! Help! “On the radio. It took hours before the military patrol arrived and took him to the coast.
Aisha was returned to the ghost ship – which had its hull repaired – after ten days of interrogation at military and police stations.
Mohamed Kamel, a retired sailor hired by the ship’s agent to protect MV Aman, was on the ship this time and was instructed to keep Aisha out of trouble, the news agency said.
“In the beginning I was keen on him, professional,” Kamel told the Journal.
“But when I saw what he was going through, he just had my sympathy.”
Aisha developed scurvy-like symptoms and was beginning to lose three teeth after months of malnutrition. To fall asleep, he took up to 12 painkillers a night.
In March 2021, a storm ripped the ship from its anchorage, causing it to run aground near the mouth of the Suez Canal – where the huge container ship, Ever Given, jammed and blocked the canal for almost a week last month.
Aisha described the storm as a “divine intervention” for Kamel, who ended up swimming to the beach and left the ship.
Aisha also swam to the beach and the port police – who called him “Castaway” – told him that they would not arrest him while he returned to the ship at sunset.
Ultimately, Aisha was released after the International Transport Workers’ Federation “offered to have one of its union representatives in Egypt take over from Aisha and become the ship’s legal guardian,” the organization said.
According to the union, the ship was without power and covered with insects and rodents.
Days before Aisha received a call from an immigration officer telling her to pack on April 20, he learned that his grandmother had died, according to the Journal.
“I will never forgive the people who kept me here while I lost my family, one by one,” said Aisha.
While Aisha was getting ready to leave the ship this month, he said he thought to himself, “I never want to see this damn ship again.”
Crew members and the ship’s agent said the ship was owned by Youssif bin Sanad.
When contacted by phone in Bahrain by the Journal, bin Sanad said he is not the owner, but the former commercial manager of a bankrupt company, Tylos Shipping & Marine Services, whose owners he declined to identify.
The ship’s agent, El Alla, told the Wall Street Journal that he never understood why the owner of several multimillion-dollar ships would abandon one because of such a small debt.
He said Bin Sanad has not returned his calls since the end of 2019.
“He disappeared,” said El Alla.